The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun has suggested to the Centre the initiation of a stranding response programme for endangered species of marine animals, WII scientist B.C. Choudhury said on Thursday.

Addressing a two-day national consultation workshop for identification of research gaps in coastal and marine biodiversity conservation hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Prof. Choudhury said a stranding operation (involving rehabilitation of rare species that wash up on the shores sick or injured), provided scientists a unique opportunity to study these creatures out of their natural habitats.

Pointing out that many of the threatened species such as the dolphins, river terrapins and horse shoe crabs remained the least studied specimens, Prof. Choudhury said a stranding programme could strengthen the cause of research in this direction.

Prof. Choudhury said India's coastal and marine ecosystems were under increasing threat in spite of the great importance accorded to balancing livelihood issues and economic output to the national GDP along the 8,500 km coastline against ecology conservation. He advocated a multi-Ministry collaborative approach to the conservation agenda for the coastal and marine environment.

Prof. Choudhury pointed out that traditionally, the contribution of densely populated coastal regions to national wealth was much higher than that of land-locked systems. The coastal zone was home to half the world's population, two-thirds of the largest cities and half the tourism earnings.

Priorities

Prof. Choudhury spelt out as the priorities macro-level research on coastal and marine habitats, floral and faunal diversity values and identification of natural and anthropogenic threats. Some of the least-studied systems, in spite of their significant ecological importance, were sand dunes, estuaries, salt marshes, inter-tidal mud flats and sea grass beds, he said.

In her inaugural address, Aruna Basu Sarkar, Chief Conservator of Forests and Director of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust called for integration of policy framing, implementation, research and community engagement for an effective coastal and marine biodiversity conservation programme.

K. Siva Kumar, WII scientist, said the workshop was the starting point in the consultative process to evolve a roadmap for future research on coastal and marine biodiversity conservation in India.

The specifics of the workshop include identification of research gaps, prioritisation of research, mandating specific roles for partnering institutions.